An artist can modify a painting many times over, tweaking and changing, adding a different color here or a different texture there. But a painting can only be adjusted so much before it becomes necessary to start on a blank canvas. A fresh canvas allows you to consider again the picture you're trying to create and to begin to produce that creation without any interference from what has gone before.
Likewise, an engineering team can tweak a particular model car, making improvement after improvement and building on the basic structure that has been previously created. But there comes a time when the engineers have to come up with a new model, a new base design in order to make further progress in efficiency and design.
We've been doing small groups at our church for a number of years. We call them Life Groups. We have tweaked our model, making some minor changes, and building on what has gone before. But a few years ago we began thinking about what we would do if we were starting Life Groups from scratch. How would we build them? What kinds of things would we say to the church about what Life Groups are and why we believe in them? What expectations would we have for leaders and group members?
A Hard Look at Life Groups
For the first time, we were considering whether our groups were as effective as we'd like them to be. We began to wrestle with whether what we'd been doing was actually seeing genuine spiritual growth or if it had simply become familiar. It reminds me of when the Israelites had to come to terms with the fact that the existence of the temple in their national culture did not necessarily translate into true spirituality (see Jeremiah 7). The existence of our small-group ministry wasn't translating to real growth. We felt compelled to stop and examine our structure, and we started asking what we call "If you truly" questions. Asking these tough questions, we began examining every part of our Life Groups.
One of the first questions we asked was, "Do group members truly have an expectation of being transformed and growing in maturity and faith in the context of a life group?" Expectation is a great word because it implies that we are actively looking for it, that we're confident that it will happen, and that we're not satisfied to remain as we are. It implies a hope for the future. It implies that we are on a journey, and that we are moving toward something—that we're not stuck.
Care for Others
One of the patterns of thinking that is so prevalent in the world that we live in is the pattern of consumerism. The idea that I am a customer and I evaluate my experience of different organizations, schools, churches, and even Life Groups by what I am going to get out of it. In other words, I ask, "In what way will my life benefit from the participation in a Life Group?" Group members want to know if they'll be cared for, if they'll receive real help if they lose a job, if they'll be prayed for. But the “If you truly” questions are:
- If I join this Life Group, will I care for others as they have need?
- If I join this Life Group, will I give practical or physical help to others who may lose their jobs?
- If I join this Life Group, will I lay down my rights and pick up my responsibilities toward others, knowing we have mutual relationships and they would help me too?
Expression of Spiritual Gifts
One of the great expectations of the New Testament is that all believers have and should be using their spiritual gifts for the building of the body. We often say that small groups are a great environment to exercise the gifts of the Spirit—to explore what God has given each one and to encourage the development and growth of these gifts in our lives. The “If you truly” questions that come to mind to assess this area are: